Roadkill is David Hare's latest work, a miniseries about a charismatic Tory politician played by Hugh Laurie who fights an escalating series of attacks on his professional and personal life. MP Peter Lawrence has just successfully sued a newspaper for libel and is on top of the world. However, forces are lining up against him. He comes down from his initial high from the court win when piles of crap start falling on his head. He's told he has a grown daughter he didn't know about – and she's in prison. The Machiavellian Prime Minister, played by Helen McCrory as a kind of Thatcher Lite, is not impressed with Lawrence.
She's especially not impressed that he's more popular than she is and offers him a promotion that's really a poisoned chalice: Home Secretary of Justice. The reporter he took to court is out to find real evidence against him. The tabloids are going after his younger daughter for taking drugs at a university party in a bid to shame him as a law & order hypocrite. And through it all, the besieged Lawrence is remorseless, barely rattled, determined to brazen it out because riding things out has always worked out for him.
David Hare is considered Britain's premier left-wing playwright and these days he likes to write State of the Nation scripts. Between the plays that made his reputation and his film and TV scripts, he likes to tackle the Big Themes to varying degrees of success. There's an oddly unreal feel to the drama here. It's all a bit too well-mannered to feel true. Real-life has shown time and again in the last few years that things in Westminster are much less polite and a lot meaner, more vicious. Perhaps it's a generational thing like Hare can't bring himself to write genuine chaos or violence. Even the riot at the female prison feels oddly contrived and subdued. Even the scenes where people are swearing at or threatening each other feel oddly polite. It all feels quaint and old-fashioned when we now know real life is a lot messier. The sheer meanness of The Thick of It feels more real than the weirdly polite atmosphere of Roadkill.
That's not to say it's not entertaining to watch. The whole show rides on Hugh Laurie's charisma as he plays Lawrence with a steely narcissism that makes him feel reasonable in every self-serving decision and justification. He's backed up by a solid supporting cast that includes Ian de Caestecker (who might have been too busy shooting this to be in most of the final season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Lawrence's aide, Saskia Reeves as Lawrence's long-suffering wife, Pip Torrens as a newspaper editor, Olivia Lovibond as Lawrence's equally clear-eyed and steely older daughter and a host of other sterling British actors.
In the end, the drama feels at least 10 years out of date. It lacks the sense of sheer desperation and sweaty fear that pervades British political life right now. The edgiest part of the series is its title. "Roadkill" describes everyone Lawrence leaves in his wake on his way to victory and the ultimate prize that every British politician craves, and it could be his eventual fate as well.
Roadkill is PBS in the US and BBC One in the UK.